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The Case For AgroCola

Introduction

We believe that if 2 million educated young farmers are engaged to cultivate 2 million hectares across grain and livestock value chains –8 million jobs and up to 16m Metric Tons (MT) of grains at N840b farm gate value (105,000 average price per ton) could be produced directly by the youth per farming cycle.

The youth are better positioned to achieve multiples in one farming cycle per annum as they will adopt technology, digital agricultural support and market access capabilities, so the annual production numbers can hit N1.6trn. This productivity numbers translate to about 1.6 million Naira and 480 thousand Naira per capita, outperforming existing minimum wage jobs that most youths are currently jostling for.

From the communique of the 2016 Youth Agribusiness, Leadership and Entrepreneur Summit on Innovation, which advocated for governments and organizations to “mainstream agribusiness” by promoting youth entrepreneurship in agriculture, to 2014 African Union Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods, which binds member states to job creation for at least 30% of youth in agricultural value chains, and the 4th Principle for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems championing the engagement and empowerment of youth by advancing their access to extension, advisory, and financial services including innovation and new technologies; there is a consensus that agriculture has the potential to generate unimaginable income and job opportunities to millions of youth. This resonates with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s position which suggests that by harnessing youth’s innovative potential, utilizing new technologies and techniques and taking advantage of new opportunities in emerging value chains, young agri-entrepreneurs could create thriving businesses and tackle the challenge of feeding a growing population. The time is here to create the needed enablers for the youth to take advantage of the business opportunities in the agriculture sector.

The youth of Nigeria can rapidly be well-equipped with finance and digital technology that can be purposed to support homegrown supply to the increasing demand for food in Nigeria. This has the potential of growing the economy, proving productive economic engagement and jobs while conserving and earning foreign exchange and returning hope to the youths of Nigeria. Efficient engagement of 2 million youths in agriculture in an integrated effort of digital technology, financing, and partnership platforms holds the potential to create a minimum of 8 million jobs, 16 million Metric Tons (MT) of export quality and global standard agricultural produce and 4 trillion Naira in value with a potential for rapid annualized growth.

Indeed, agri-food systems and farming have become more and more knowledge-intensive and both attracting and retaining the youth in agriculture is key to the green revolution and reduction of unemployment. Extrapolating simply from the World Bank’s projection on Africa’s food market in the 10 years to 2030, Nigeria’s food market will grow to about US$250b in the same period and if things remain as they are in Nigeria’s agriculture, about 84% of the food will be imported. To infer from an AFDB report on youth employment, 20 million young educated Nigerians may not find jobs.

The FAO recognizes that the importance of engaging youth in agriculture has been increasingly recognized at national, regional and global levels, So, there is an urgent need for opportunities to empower the youth to carry out and benefit from responsible agricultural investment by giving launch-pad to those most concerned – young farmers, agri- entrepreneurs, and workers.

Problem Statement: Are We Missing An Opportunity?

The Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) is considered one of the farthest-reaching agricultural transformation policies and intervention in Nigeria. Launched November 17, 2015, its efforts have disbursed over 120 billion Naira that has directly reached over 1 million farmers and providing thousands of jobs and expanding business opportunities for agribusinesses across Nigeria. The programme's overall objectives range from creating the condition for the emergence of a new generation of farmers, agribusiness entrepreneurs, job opportunities, increasing access to credit financing to the agricultural sector, enabling lower importation of agricultural commodity, growing the external reserves, and boosting capacity utilization of agricultural firms. The typical profile of the 1 million farmers supported so far by the ABP is a 41-year-old man with primary education. By this the average ABP recipient has a shorter productive life and represents only 4% of the population.

Even though the ABP effort has been far reaching, the distribution of farmers covered so far has been skewed against a major and potentially impactful demographic group - the youth. In an economy where 20 million educated young persons may not find jobs in 10 years, subsequently leading to vulnerability of the youths to digital platforms for legal and illegal proclivities. This presents a missed opportunity to address the major pain point of youth unemployment in this economy. The average age in Nigeria is 17.5 years old and the youth – ages 18-35 years old make up 30% of the population. According to the National Bureau for Statistics (NBC) Labour Force Statistics - Unemployment and Underemployment Report for Q3 2018, 68.7% of young people in the labour force, aged 15-24 years were either underemployed (engaged in work for less than 20 hours a week) or unemployed (willing and actively seeking to work), while the combined rate for the 25–34 year age group stood at 45.1%. From the NBS report, these age groups (15-24 years and 25-34 years) represent the youth population in Nigeria and have a combined unemployment and underemployment rate of 55.4% or 24.5 million (13.1 million unemployed and another 11.3 million underemployed). The report concluded that young people are more likely to face difficulties securing full time employment and are more likely to be completely idle.

In a Youth Engagement Survey conducted by AgroMall in 2019, which comprised of 163 youth (age 18 – 35 years) respondents and sample clusters reflecting the six geo-political zones in Nigeria (96% having a tertiary educational qualification clusters - 79.8% male and 20.2% female); 75% of the respondents expressed their determination to create a farm enterprise, whilst 79% also indicated their willingness to be trained in ICT for digital farming. Nigeria may be missing an opportunity to provide both sustainable food security and youth productivity with the same effort.

Of the 1.1million hectares of farmland cultivated by 1.05million farmers so far under the ABP, If fifty percent (500 thousand hectares) had been cultivated by 500 thousand educated young farmers (an age group which is known for their productivity and innovativeness, 2million jobs and 3million metric tonnes of grains at N285billion farmgate value could have been produced directly by the youth. This is 100%+ efficiency over current levels meaning that the potential of the ABP and any other effort to eradicate hunger will show exponential results if the youth is focused on.

For example, a deliberate focus of half of the ABP’s effort on digital technology supported youth engagement in agriculture will address some clear and present socio-economic challenges facing Nigeria and create positive outcomes and favorable perception of
the programme.

The Big Picture

Nigeria’s current population is put at 201,186,615 based on United Nations estimates, alongside a widening youth bulge. The share of the youth population is expected to increase significantly with population growth rate of 2.62%. Targeting youth-led farming and agribusinesses will give the ABP enhanced immediate outcomes, long-term economic impact and positive perception in Nigeria and can potentially become an agriculture/job creation transformation for Africa and beyond.

With this, the Nigerian government is presented with an opportunity to provide both sustainable food security and youth productivity with the same effort and an outlook that targets the Africa food market estimated to reach 1 trillion dollars in 2030 (World Bank). This prospect for Nigeria is that its agricultural production can compete and potentially upturn 84% of the African food market which is currently imported from outside Africa. The newly signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) further creates twin opportunities for Nigeria to be a major player in this market as it has an abundance of youth manpower, arable land, and potential of digital technology to support exponential growth and scale in agricultural production for the African market while solving the problem of the projected 24.5 million youth without jobs or underemployed.

Educated young farmers can adopt best agronomy and extension practices, farm and digital technology, and can support young farmhands and youth-focused agribusiness owners in input supply, logistics, and aggregation. Their digital technology supported operations will help to provide situational awareness across the value chain, generate real data for policy and plans, and create positive perception and reportage through new media.